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Hrant Gadarigian

Istanbul School for Children from Armenia Struggles On: 150 Students and Growing

There’s a school where 150 children attend classes in the basement of the Gedikpaşa Armenian Evangelical Church in one of the older sections of Istanbul.

However, they’re the kids of parents who have left Armenia to work in Turkey; many illegally.

While in Istanbul to attend events commemorating the 1915 Genocide, I had a chance to briefly speak to Heriknaz Avakyan, principal of the ‘Hrant Dink’ school.

When I last paid a visit to the school some six years ago there were one-third the number of pupils and classes didn’t go up to the eighth grade as now.

But they are still learning in classrooms without windows and the space is getting crowded.

The pupils follow the state curriculum as exists in Armenia. They do not receive any type of graduation certificate, merely a document certifying they attended classes at the school..

The hope is that the kids will one day return to Armenia and continue their education there for one more year to obtain a diploma

Somebelieve this is fanciful thinking.

Avakyan told me that five students from the ten in the eighth grade will be returning to Armenia solely to get a diploma.

If their parents do not return, the children will not be able to continue their education in the state sanctioned Armenian schools here where some 3,000 children of the native Bolsahay community attend classes.

Most children from Armenia, as a result, will wind up working as laborers or as apprentices to Bolsahay artisans.

Principal Avakyan says that people from Armenia continue to arrive every day and expects enrollment at the school, where parents pay a nominal tuition, to rise concomitantly.

When asked to list the problems she faces Avakyan points to the school’s crowded conditions and lack of funding.

The school, with a teaching and support staff of sixteen, somehow manages to operate, just barely, on assistance from the Hrant Dink Foundation, donations from a local benefactor, and mandatory tuition paid by parents.

Avakyanconfesses that the school always faces funding shortages.

The lack of textbooks is another issue the school faces. The books are sent from Armenia.

The last batch, promised by the ministry of education in Armenia, was a partial shipment that arrived late last year. So the school had to buy the needed textbooks out of pocket.

The principal notes that the pupils are citizens of Armenia and should be receiving textbooks from the diaspora ministry free of charge. Avakyan says that on her next visit to Armenia she’ll raise the issue with the proper authorities.

To fill the textbook gap, the school will soon launch a ‘book raiser’ on its Facebook page. Books collected in Armenia will then be shipped to the school.

Avakyan says that the community has become more active of late and that students organized an Easter egg sale that raised much needed funds.

Despite the difficulties, the school will persevere, Avakyan assures me.

“We have a duty to maintain our culture here in Turkey. Not just for the children, but the parents as well,” she says. 

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